Our character is tested every day. We need wisdom to survive.
Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
love her, and she will watch over you. — Proverbs 4:6
Wisdom is hard to find. If you talk to social scientists they will tell you it is a combination of IQ, EQ and personality and toss in a description of brain research to verify what they say. That’s all fine, but while we are trying to apply their science, we are being tested. We are dealing with toxic relationships, maybe a dead-end job, or a struggling marriage or family issue. Whatever the challenge, Jesus calls us to see things through a new lens, take confident action and keep moving in the wisdom God provides.
It sounds easy, but it isn’t.
Spiritually wise people find a way to see and act that allows them to go a different way from the self-destructive crowd. Where others see impenetrable barriers, they tend to see opportunities for faith, hope and love or they see challenges to overcome trouble with the strength Jesus provides.
Too many people fall prey to the mistaken belief that inner strength comes from natural, unteachable traits that belong only to a lucky few. It’s a common misconception. In reality, faithful, available and teachable people can grow in spiritual wisdom and grow in effective application of it. Social scientists helpfully label various quadrants of our being and define common experiences and behaviors that we can watch to good effect, but spiritual wisdom goes deeper.
Getting wisdom mystifies a few of us because it is somewhat intangible. But we can learn it from people we know who have it. Like Paul tells the Corinthian church:
“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. “ — 1 Corinthians 11:1
If you’re up for it, start with these twelve things that spiritually wise people are careful to avoid. Each of these categories started, for me, with a category an EQ salesman concocted. I quickly realized that his science had led him back to the Bible! So see what you think. Wisdom from social sciences agree with the Bible that we should consciously avoid these behaviors because they lead us to destruction.
- They don’t stay in their comfort zone.
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:7
Let’s just say spiritually wise people no longer think their comfort zones define reality. They live with God in a comfort zone that does not depend on their circumstances working out according to plan. This makes them brave enough to look into eternity and to look into the depths of themselves – neither being immediately comfortable places. But one does not become wise unless they dare to look at someone and something outside themselves.
- They don’t give in to fear.
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:30
They say that bravery is being scared to death to do something and doing it anyway. Many times, that’s true, even when it comes to one’s career, or marriage, or spiritual experience. The fear doesn’t have to come from facing something extreme like rushing into a burning building; it can be a fear of public speaking or going out on a limb to try for a promotion or expressing your needs and desires. Spiritually wise people are as afraid as anyone else, probably, they simply trust God, respect their gifts and fight on regardless of the fear.
- They don’t stop believing in their potential.
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. – Romans 5:3-5
Spiritually wise people persevere. They don’t give up in the face of failure, and they don’t give up because they are tired or uncomfortable. They are focused on their goals, not on momentary feelings, and that keeps them going even when things are hard. They don’t take failing to mean that they’re a failure. Likewise, they don’t let the opinions of others keep them from fulfilling their calling. When someone says, “You’ll never be able to do that,” they check that opinion out with God.
- They don’t beg for attention.
I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. – 1 Corinthians 4:3
People who are always begging for attention are soaking up energy they should be distributing. We are tempted to rely on the attention of others to form an identity – we are what others see in us, or say we are, or allow us to be. Spiritually wise people do not make relationships like that. They do what they want to do and what needs to be done, regardless of whether anyone is protecting their fragile self-image. They find their main source of attention by attending to God and finding God’s love and hope in those who follow Jesus.
5. They don’t act like jerks.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32
Acting like a “jerk” is a relative term – being mean is in the eye of the beholder, so to speak. But you probably have an idea of what I mean, and may have some opinions about when you are acting like a jerk. People act like jerks when they act out of the things that make them unhappy and insecure. They act like jerks because they don’t have the strength to be nice when they don’t feel like it, to forgive as they have been forgiven. Spiritually wise people place high value on their relationships, which means they treat everyone with respect, regardless of the kind of mood they’re in. They love like Jesus.
- They don’t hold grudges.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. – Ephesians 4:31
Spiritually wise people know they are not just looking out for themselves when they overcome evil with good. But not doing self-destructive things, like holding a grudge, is actually good for them, too. The negative emotions that come with holding onto a grudge are actually a stress response. Holding onto that stress wreaks havoc on one’s body and can have negative health consequences over time. Researchers have shown that holding onto stress contributes to high blood pressure and heart disease. Grudges not only wreck the body politic and the body of Christ, they wreck our own bodies.
7. They don’t hang around negative people.
Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man,
or you will learn his ways and find a snare for yourself. – Proverbs 22:24-5
“Negative” is a judgment we need to apply judiciously. Because people act in ways we label “negative” because they can’t solve problems and can’t focus on mutual solutions. They often try to draw people into blaming others for their faults and failures so they can feel better about themselves. We often feel pressure to listen to negative people because we don’t want to be callous or rude, but there’s a fine line between lending a sympathetic ear to someone and getting sucked into their downward emotional spiral. Spiritually wise people avoid getting drawn in by setting limits and distancing themselves from negative people when necessary; it is possible to judge a situation without being judgmental.
- They don’t feel entitled.
For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? – 1 Corinthians 4:7
Spiritually wise people know that the world is a gift. They soberly assess what they have been given and freely exercise it without competition. They do not worry about their earning power and are not subject to the meritocracy. Yet they are also free to work hard and deserve what they earn. They live in a world that has love behind it, so they can love it back, not fight over maintaining a locus of control within themselves or be solely responsible for their successes or failures.
- They don’t close their minds.
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. – 1 Corinthians 2:14
When people close their minds to new information or opinions, it’s usually because they find them threatening. They think admitting someone else is right means they’re wrong, and that’s very uncomfortable for people lacking spiritual wisdom. Jesus followers are not threatened by new things; they are open to new information and new ideas, even if it means admitting that they were wrong. Their wisdom is based on following their Guide into what is next, eternally, fearlessly.
- They don’t let anyone limit their joy.
Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. – 2 Corinthians 10:12
When our sense of pleasure and satisfaction are derived from comparing ourselves with others, they have become our masters. When spiritually wise people feel good about who they are or what they have done, they don’t let another’s detraction or a comparison with another’s accomplishments steal their joy. Even when they need forgiveness or have failed, they still have a kernel of joy inside that comes from being the beloved of God. We are free to listen to others and learn from them, even when they hurt us or just barely know what they are talking about. But our main interest is how God thinks of us. The Lord’s view is incisively true but overwhelmingly kind.
11. They don’t get eaten up by jealousy and envy.
For you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? – 1 Corinthians 3:3
Spiritually wise people understand that the happiness and success of others doesn’t take away from their own, so jealousy and envy aren’t an issue for them. They see grace as being in unlimited supply, so they can celebrate the successes of others. They are not clawing their way to get a piece of a limited pie anymore, so they can share with others and rely on someone else to care for them, as well.
- They don’t live in the past.
For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord. – Jeremiah 29:11-14
Failure can erode our self-confidence and make it hard to believe we will have a better outcome in the future. Most of the time, failure results from taking risks and trying to achieve things that aren’t easy. Spiritually wise people know that success lies in their ability to “rise from the dead.” Jesus followers, of all people, know their past is forgiven and their future is bright. So they are free to take risks to be true selves and loving members of humanity because they know that their past failures as a human cannot stop them. When you live in the past, that is exactly what happens—your past becomes your present and prevents you from moving forward.
So what do you think of this recasting of thoughts from the EQ community? Maybe you would like to add further things to the list. What DON’T spiritually wise people do?
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